David Gisler

I think most people are creatures of habit. We get used to things a certain way, and it throws us off when things change. Even people in the creative field get used to systems and workflows—we may not even be aware of it. Some things really shouldn’t change too often or it could cause a lot of confusion. For example, imagine if every couple of months the Department of Transportation decided to unveil a new design for the stop sign or to change the color of the traffic lights to match current trends. Complete chaos. When it comes to navigation, whether on the streets or a website, too much change can cause problems.

I’m not saying all change is bad; it’s a fact of life and can lead to better things. Over the years in the advertising business, I’ve watched a lot of things come and go and just plain change into something totally different. Imagine life without the Internet or trying to communicate with clients without email. Remember when searching was done in the Yellow Pages and the phone or fax was the primary method of communication? Or when a photo shoot involved Polaroids, then shooting the final shots and waiting a few days for film to see what you got? Now we can shoot digitally, view the final shots onscreen, and have the finals in hand the same day. Yes, things certainly change quickly in this business—it’s the one constant.

The Internet has brought some of the biggest changes we’ve seen here at Words and Pictures. When we first started designing websites about 10 years ago, one of the biggest challenges we faced was breaking the habit of looking at a webpage as a flat size with set dimensions of width and height. In fact, most websites back then were designed to fit in a set space—it took the design industry quite a few years to see things in a different way. In 2011, I attended the First Annual Interactive Design Conference in San Francisco, and it opened my eyes to some of the changes that were just starting to take place at that time. One of the topics that seemed to get the most attention was something called Adaptive Website Design. Does that mean websites that change color like a chameleon?

Actually it was the design industry’s response to the ever-increasing number of mobile devices showing up on the market. Websites that were designed to look good on a big desktop screen were not looking good on a small iPhone one. The first response of many companies was to create a mobile website to look good and function well on the smaller-sized smartphone screens. Then iPads and other mid-sized devices started coming out. Now what? Three or more website designs?

Enter the adaptive website, a single website with a single source of content that can literally re-arrange itself depending on the size and shape of the screen it’s being viewed on. Sounds like magic, maybe, and I think there is some magic that has to take place in the planning and early design stages, not to mention the additional work involved in the initial programming. But the benefits can be well worth that extra time up front.

This may help explain how this works:

Multi Device diagram
A. Large laptop screen with six main menu items running across the top, plus logo at left, search bar at right, and large photo.
B. With an adaptive site, when that same page is on a smaller tablet screen, only four menu items remain and are now stacked, logo is aligned to the left, search bar has changed to a search icon, and the photo has scaled down.
C. On a smartphone, the menu items are now enclosed in a fly-out tab, with the logo centered under that, and no photo visible.

All this could be on one site with just one set of content to update and make changes to. If you are reading this on a desktop or laptop, just click and drag the bottom right corner of your browser window to see how this page adapts as it becomes smaller.

Imagine how much time could be saved by maintaining one set of content versus two or three for different sites! With an adaptive website the additional upfront time pays for itself in all the hours saved over the long run in updates. The next time an extensive update with lots of changes is required for your site, consider making the leap to an adaptive site. Then, when the next round of changes needs to be implemented, you can make those changes in one place and see it on all those nifty gadgets out there.

Change is the one thing we can all count on. We can resist or choose to embrace it and be part of the next big thing (or all the next little things).